The purpose of this study is to investigate how preschoolers garner agency over writing practice in a preschool classroom. Specifically, this study is concerned with the following three aspects of writing practice: cognitive development, social practice, and communicative modalities, and how they are intertwined with the classroom writing structures. The intent is to learn more about how young writers use writing to communicate with and about the world around them, how they develop understanding of writing elements such as ownership and voice, and how they participate in, construct, and deconstruct the social structures in the classroom to develop writing competency.
In order to learn about preschool writing practice, this study was conducted as an ethnography of a public, preschool classroom over the course of a school year. Students were observed two to three times a week for approximately thirty minutes during structured writing events such as journal writing, journal sharing, and writing conferences—which occurred as a routine part of the school day. In order to capture the nature of writing practice in a comprehensive manner the following types of data were collected: focused observations captured in videotapes, observational field notes, student work samples, student records, and curricular information.
The data was analyzed using qualitative macro and micro level analysis techniques. On a macro level, thematic analysis compared and contextualized the data. On a micro level, intertextual connections, intercontextual connections, and power relations were analyzed via moment-to-moment discourse analysis. From this a deeper understanding of the cognitive, communicative, and social aspects of writing practice emerged.
Findings suggest that preschoolers are more complex in their understanding of the uses and purposes of writing than their written products may indicate. Young writers develop ownership and voice in sophisticated ways that mirror the behavior of more developed writers. They also exert agency over their writing development in unexpected, yet effective ways that further their social and cognitive needs. To do this young writers use complex interactions where they problematize what counts as power and what power counts in order to further writing competency. Ultimately, it is hoped that increased understanding of early writing practice and how it is interconnected with the social relationships in the classroom might lead to future steps toward refining teacher practice to support this aspect of the young writer's development.